Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus.
“It’s only a church service,” he said.
And I looked at him with that “Did you just say what I think you just said?” kind of look on my face that made him smile. He wasn’t trying to be shocking, nor did he care less than I did about our church service. He was simply an older and wiser pastor catching me in a Mary and Martha moment where I was clearly not being very Mary-esque.
But this line has always stuck with me because I think pastors put an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to put on a great church service. So let me get the qualifications out of the way because yes, a good and orderly church service is a right and good endeavor. We are worshipping the King of Glory, so our efforts should reflect in awe and reverence of Him. That doesn’t mean we need to be fancy and flashy, it simply means that our posture is one of love, honor, and respect.
But our motivations don’t always run that pure, do they? Here are some of the dangerous things we pastors can use the church service for:
- A Proving Ground. The work of the pastor is largely an unseen work. We labor in relative obscurity all week, and then on Sunday, the congregation gets to see us actually “do something.” Because of the fear that this can breed in us, Sunday can feel like a proving ground of sorts, in that our sermon becomes the make-or-break moment that can seal or steal every ounce of our self-worth and identity.
- The Greatest Show On Earth. Some of us love to be listened to and love to be looked at, so Sunday morning services are that moment to feel a sense of importance and grandiosity. We know that a service isn’t a show, but that doesn’t change how we feel when all eyes are upon us and a deceptive sense of satisfaction and arrival comes to rest upon our glory-starved egos.
- Achieving Perfection. There is so little in our ministry that goes to plan, mainly because ministry is almost 100% relational, and doesn’t operate in the sterile confines of a laboratory or a craftsman’s workshop where every detail can be honed down to perfection. Because of this, pastors can use the Sunday service as that moment where “everything goes according to plan.” Except for the part I just mentioned about people being the ones who actually execute a church service. But it’s this mentality that can make a church service the pastor’s “baby,” and create an unhealthy ownership over it.
- A Job To Be Completed. Some of us have a very workman-like approach to life that probably stems from our family of origin where we had parents who were very practical, methodical, and efficient when it came to running the household. Pastors can take this approach during Sunday services, too. Instead of a liturgy that is flowing, worshipful, and filled with natural rhythms of grace and truth, a pastor can approach Sundays with a sense of duty and obligation, like a weekly lawn service that comes in and landscapes your yard with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of proficiency.
What have Sunday services personally become for you, pastor? What kind of joy needs to be reclaimed so that Sundays remain what God intended them to be, which is an
Hour unlike other hours, when the people of God, worship God, as a community redeemed by the blood of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit for good works.
It’s only a church service when it ceases to be a worship service.
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever (Ps. 111:1-3).